Current advice and practical tips to ease back pain with sitting
Sitting with back pain can hurt even on the perfect chair. When you struggle to sit because of back pain, it can make working, driving, and socializing extremely challenging.
If you’ve ever been told, “don’t slouch, it’s not good for your back,” or to “just sit up straight” to make your back pain feel better, you’ll know that this isn’t always helpful advice.
The truth is, whether you sit with your back fully supported, slumped, or leaning back in a chair, any of these positions can make your pain feel better or worse.
In this article, we explain why back pain often worsens with sitting, discuss the best way to sit when you have back pain (according to current research), and give tips to help you sit comfortably in different settings.
Let’s start with how sitting affects your back.
Why your back hurts from sitting
Research indicates that sitting in uncomfortable positions for long periods can worsen existing back pain or lead to back discomfort in those without previous back issues.
Two likely reasons for this are:
Common beliefs and misconceptions about posture and back pain with sitting
What is posture, really?
Posture is how you hold your body while standing, sitting, or lying down. It results from the combined effort of many muscle groups working together and is linked to your overall physical and mental health and well-being.
What is “good posture”?
“Good posture” is commonly understood as sitting straight, standing tall, and aligning your body. The assumption is that in a good posture, all your tissues align optimally for their expected job.
What is “bad posture”?
"Bad posture" usually refers to sitting, standing, moving, or lifting with your body not aligned, your back bent, and your shoulders hanging down.
What do people believe about sitting posture and back pain?
Many people (including healthcare professionals) think that sitting with “good posture” helps protect your back and keeps it from hurting, and sitting with “bad posture” can injure your back and make it hurt.
What does the current evidence say about back pain and sitting posture?
Evidence shows that these beliefs about posture and back pain are widespread but unhelpful and often get in the way of people fully recovering from back pain.
The review of the science shows that:
- No single “correct” posture can cause, ease, or prevent back pain.
- “Good” posture doesn’t prevent back pain, and “bad posture” doesn’t cause it.
- Sitting in any posture for a long period can lead to discomfort, regardless of the posture itself or whether you have back pain or not.
- Your stress and anxiety levels, sleep habits, strength and fitness levels, and genetics link more strongly to developing back pain than posture.
- Focusing on staying fit and active, sitting in more comfortable, relaxed positions, and regularly changing them up is more effective for reducing sitting-induced back pain than always trying to maintain one “perfect “posture.
Now let’s look at finding relief from back pain while sitting.
How to minimize back pain while sitting
Everyone’s body structure, symptoms, and back pain are different, so the postures you find comfortable will differ from others.
However, according to current advice, the best posture is the one that feels the easiest and most comfortable for you to maintain. So, aim to be more relaxed, add support when necessary, and sit as effortlessly as possible.
Another important factor for avoiding back pain with sitting is regularly adjusting your position and taking breaks before the pain increases. In that way, you’ll likely be able to tolerate sitting for more extended periods than if you only take breaks after you start feeling pain.
Below are some tips you can follow to help you find some relief from back pain while sitting in various settings. Remember, this advice is only a guide to help get you started, and you should tailor it to meet your needs.
The back pain rehab plan in the app incorporates helpful tips and advice on managing pain in your daily life so you can avoid setbacks and keep progressing through your recovery.
Tips for when you get back pain from driving
Tips for if you get back pain when sitting at a desk
If you regularly find yourself experiencing back pain when sitting at a desk, you can try the following:
1. Use a dynamic, ergonomic chair if necessary (and possible)
No chair is best for back pain. However, chairs with movement mechanisms, adjustable armrests, and seat depths may be helpful to you.
These can keep your back better supported and mobile, which may help you sit more comfortably for longer periods.
2. Assess and adjust your work chair regularly
Studies show comfort levels with certain positions can change when you have back pain; you may find the chair settings you found comfortable a week ago are less comfortable now.
3. Be more active and mobile at work
A sit-to-stand desk can help you find the right balance between sitting and standing to ease your back pain at work. Also, doing back pain rehab exercises, taking short walks, and moving regularly throughout the day can help reduce back pain when sitting.
Note: Don’t worry if you work in different places or you don’t have access to adjustable desks and chairs. You can still make small changes to your sitting position and workstation set up throughout the day to stay comfortable.
Tips for if your back hurts at other times while sitting
Back pain is a complicated condition, and easing pain with sitting takes more than simply focusing on “good” or “bad” posture.
While adopting more comfortable postures and regularly adjusting them can help reduce back pain with sitting, other factors are usually also involved. These include muscle strength and endurance, pain beliefs, stress levels, sleep patterns, and more.
Taking steps to improve your physical and mental health as part of a comprehensive rehab program can reduce your back pain, making sitting easier and less of a burden.
If you would like to learn more about the different types of back pain and how to start treating yours effectively, our back pain overview article explains everything you need to know about it.